The Drought Of The Lower Mid-Continent

By Bud White, director, Mid-Continent Region
June 6, 2011

(L) The putting greens at Champions Club are still  in quality condition with careful management of water allocations while allowing the fairways and roughs to go more off-color.  (R) Golf cart traffic must be managed even more carefully when the turf is drought stressed.  Golfers must do their part by heeding ropes and directional signage. 

 

 

Most of Texas, Louisiana, and New Mexico are suffering an incredibly severe drought.  Many areas are at record drought levels, and some parts of west Texas have not received measurable rain since October 2010.  Superintendents in Houston have recorded only four inches of rain to-date this year, when normally they would be at 16 – 19 inches. 

This has created significant problems for superintendents -- not just drought concerns, but other problems that dovetail into drought issues.  These include:

 

  • Rapid total salts and sodium build-up
  • The significant cost of water purchases
  • The challenge of monitoring water allocations for June, July, and August instead of just August as is usually the case

 

Firm and fast conditions have been brought by the drought, whether or not the superintendents or golfers are ready.  A picture at the Champions Club (Houston, TX) is a perfect example of significant browning in golf course fairways and roughs, while the greens are maintained in high-quality condition.  Superintendent Charles Joachim, CGCS, has a tremendous handle on dealing with these issues and has planned ahead for unrelenting heat and drought for the rest of the summer.  Charles is taking the approach of providing only enough water in fairways and roughs to maintain survivability of bermudagrass and trees.  He has purchased many water bags for trees, and has two people dedicated to filling these bags to protect the trees as best possible without using overhead irrigation. 

For the most part, the greens and the tees are in top-quality playing condition.  Although aesthetics are greatly affected by the severe drought, playing conditions are not.  This is exactly what proper water management entails.  Not only is Charles keeping water costs down as much as possible while maintaining turf survival and preventing turf loss, he is still providing a golf course with tremendous playability.  At the same time, he is proactively dealing with future water availability should the drought persist.

Water cost is certainly a factor, but so is managing water availability so that the supply is adequate in late July and August if the drought persists.  In addition, a superintendent must manage the salt issues by using gypsum applications and flushing.  This has to be a careful balance of heavy watering and flushing on as infrequent a basis as possible to maintain turf health. 

Golf cart tracks make a substantial negative impact on the already-stressed turf.  To prevent additional turf loss, cart restrictions are an even more important program when the turf is in significant drought stress.  This program is handled differently by every golf course, depending on their situation, but must be considered by all.

If you would like more information about a Turf Advisory Service visit, do not hesitate to contact either of the Mid-Continent regional offices: Ty McClellan at tmcclellan@usga.org  or (630) 340-5853 or Bud White at budwhite@usga.org or (972) 662-1138. 

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